Average isn't good enough

A 78

August 31, 1992

WHEN I first saw the half-page announcement in the newspaper, I was impressed:

"Judging by the success of their kids, these parents must be doing their homework." Below this sentence was a five-column list of more than 200 students and congratulations to their parents "for inspiring their children to achieve at least a 78 percent average and 85 percent attendance record."

My first thought was that the announcement was a great incentive to encourage parents to take an interest in their children's school work. My wife and I credit the relative academic success of our three children at least in part to our concern for their education . . . We also know, having just about emerged from that period, how hard it is to get teen-agers to sit down to do their work . . .

So I believe that the announcement was a good idea, but I am also disturbed by some of the implications.

Consider the 85 percent attendance record. At first it seems commendable, but is it really? An 85 percent performance means that a student misses 1 1/2 days out of 10, or about three days a month. I asked my wife, a teacher at an independent school, what she would say to a student who missed three days a month.

"What do you mean?" she asked. "Well," I said, "would you be pleased with the student? Would you like to see her attendance praised in the newspaper?" "Are you kidding?" she responded. "I'd be talking to the student and her parents about an 'attendance problem.'

What do employers say to employees who miss three days a month? Can such employees hope to keep their jobs? Can they realistically hope to be promoted to positions of responsibility?

Consider also the 78 percent school average the children of these parents have achieved. That's a "C" average, certainly respectable but hardly enough to boast about in the papers. A "C" average is not good enough for admission to most colleges and universities. Shouldn't public praise encourage students to aspire to at least an 85 percent, or "B" average?

Finally, the announcement seemed to me to bury the achievement of those students who far exceeded the minimal standards. Why not an announcement for students achieving a "B" average and 95 percent attendance? Sure, the list of parents would be shorter, but the honor would be greater and student aspirations might grow.

Michael L. Storey

Baltimore

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